St Guilhem le Désert

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March 17th 2019
Published: March 17th 2019
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At the Devil's BridgeAt the Devil's BridgeAt the Devil's Bridge

One of 96 in France. The ancient bridge is in the foreground with the newer bridge behind.
We have long been interested in the Chemin de St Jacques, the Pilgrim’s Way from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Well, not enough to actually walk it ourselves but it has been fun to follow the adventures of various friends who have walked it. One of the trails passes through Montpellier and we have walked the route through the city, several portions of it before we discovered the streets we liked to walk were actually part of the route.

In our readings about the Camino, we found references to St Guilhem le Désert, a small town not too far from here. The web site says it is one of the most beautiful villages in France. How could we pass that up? Our preferred method of exploration is to look places up on the Internet, go there, find the nearest tourism office, pick up a map of the place and set off exploring. Under the topic of How To Get There we discovered in the off-season it is almost impossible to get there and back on the same day. Hmmmm. The Montpellier Tourism Office supplied us with some material that pointed to a small,
La Grotte de ClamouseLa Grotte de ClamouseLa Grotte de Clamouse

This display highlighted how far underground we were going in the caves of Clamouse. The guides told us that further explorations of the vast caves are still underway.
local company that did custom tours. They would pick us up at a mutually convenient place, drive us to St Guilhem le Désert and also stop at a couple of other interesting places. We could choose to eat at a restaurant of their choosing or take a pique-nique. We can have a pique-nique anytime; we let them choose the restaurant.

Turned out the company is a one person operation run by a young woman who has lived in a remarkable number of places. Her English was great and I knew it was going to be a good day when, in the first 10 minutes in the car, she told me she liked my humour.

Le Pont de Diable

There are 49 bridges in France alone that have the name, The Devil’s Bridge. Not actually sure which one we visited. Isabelle explained the legend of its creation and the fact that there are legends associated with everything in France. One of the problems with travelling at this time of year is the weather is uncertain. Our weather was acceptable although the wind made it cool. One of the advantages of travelling at this time is that there are
Cave pictureCave pictureCave picture

We chose to include 4 pictures from our tour of La Grotte de Clamouse. These pictures really can't do justice to the amazing structures.
almost no other tourists. Because there were just the three of us, there was lots of time to share sites and talk about the sites we were visiting.

La Grotto de Clamouse

Normally, I am not a big fan of caves. Not because I am claustrophobic but because of my poor eyesight, especially in dark, unfamiliar places. The Caves of Clamouse are an exception. The hour and a half tour through the caves was impressive. The two guides spoke only French but we had audio guides in English to get the main points across to us. The guides made sure we knew which stop we were at to get maximum benefit.

The caves were discovered in 1945 and opened to the public about 1964. Dianne says she is amazed at how the first people to visit would have had to crawl through small openings with no idea where they were going. Lighting would have been whatever they could carry, nothing like the nice paths and subdued lighting we had available to us. That was really brought home when the lights when out. Total blackout. Oops said the guide and used his flashlight to find the switch. I agreed with Dianne but my thoughts were about how much work it was to build the nice stairs and paths we so casually strolled along. A great tour. The pictures we could take don’t really do justice to the tour. If you would like to see some professional pictures of what we saw, click here.. If you do, when you are finished, just click the Back button to return to the blog.

St Guilhem le Désert

This is a pretty small town at this time of year, just over 100 permanent residents which increases a lot in tourist season. We were glad to be able to walk around in such a peaceful environment.

Because we were going to a small owner-operated place where they were waiting for us, we headed right to the restaurant. Isabelle knew the owners pretty well so there was lots of kibitzing when we got there. There were only four tables which soon filled up. Isa handled front of house and her husband did the cooking. I was told Luc was Le Roi du Omelettes so I had to have one. He was indeed The King of Omelettes. But the best was that it included dessert. We all had a different dessert and they all looked fabulous. Another benefit of a guided tour is when the tour guide knows the restauranteurs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the streets of this small village. The church was small but nice. Another church had been converted to display space and we reviewed a portfolio of old photographs. There are lots of artisans in town but most of them are closed for the off-season. But it was still very nice to walk the old streets of this town that dates from around 800 AD. We even found a portion of the Camino which was, after all, the reason for coming here. One set of displays was set up in an old building (was there any other kind?). There were hundreds of miniatures designed like characters, animals, wagons and other features from “the old days”. There was one diorama that was huge and incredibly detailed. Apparently the chap retired and the mayor talked him into doing this for the town. Great retirement job.

On our way home we stopped at another town where we toured the shop of a woodworker who was big into making things from dead wood he scrounged. Fascinating to see what he could do with it and interesting to listen to him chat about his passion even if we couldn’t follow the conversation.

Back home again

Isabelle dropped us at our door. We didn’t even have to walk home from our original pickup spot which wasn’t that far from home. A great day with a great guide. As I write this we are waiting to see if she is available for another day trip. ToBeContinued.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Lunch breakLunch break
Lunch break

Isaluc's restaurant was a lot of fun. The food was delicious.
My dessertMy dessert
My dessert

I think this should be called St Guilhem le dessert! Dianne's and Isabelle's desserts were different and equally as amazing.
Old narrow streetsOld narrow streets
Old narrow streets

Medieval towns have narrow, winding streets.
A dried flowerA dried flower
A dried flower

These made us think of sunflowers in Italy as they indicate the weather. Many people put these dried ones on their doors.
Medieval house and fountainMedieval house and fountain
Medieval house and fountain

Fresh water has always been important to villagers and pilgrims, alike.
Why a guide is niceWhy a guide is nice
Why a guide is nice

We would never have spotted these ceramic drain pipes that are gradually being replaced unless Isabelle had pointed them out.
Too many people?Too many people?
Too many people?

As you can see, it is great to wander down Medieval streets without vast numbers of tourists.
Sample of the dioramaSample of the diorama
Sample of the diorama

The detail was incredible. This was only one section of the large diorama.
Old pulleyOld pulley
Old pulley

Easier than carrying stuff up the old, winding stairs.
Town squareTown square
Town square

Pretty quiet at this time of year.
St. Guilhem St. Guilhem
St. Guilhem

The old church in the background and the cloister in the foreground. This was an important place for pilgrims. It houses some relics (bones) of St. Guilhem and a reliquary reported to contain a piece of the True Cross.
St. GuilhemSt. Guilhem
St. Guilhem

The entrance doors to the old churches were always huge.
Chemin de St JacquesChemin de St Jacques
Chemin de St Jacques

One of the signposts pilgrims look for in order to guide their way to Spain.

I always find these braces fascinating. Without them would the buildings fall down?
Happy to go to Church?Happy to go to Church?
Happy to go to Church?

This church appears to be happy to see you.
Ceramic owlCeramic owl
Ceramic owl

We visited a medieval village that was famous for its ceramics. This very colourful owl was sitting in an alcove.
XI century chapelleXI century chapelle
XI century chapelle

In another medieval village we came across the Chapelle of St. Genies de Litenis.

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